Tag Archives: Gunnar Gunnarsson

Icelandic Austerity is Beautiful

Time and again, Gunnar wrote that poverty is the greatest wealth. Here’s an example from his childhood fjord. Here, every farm i needed a source of fresh water. The smaller the farm, the more precarious the source. Here’s the water source of a small croft near Bringubakki.

Look how the water flows with life within the remains of winter’s cold, just as the life flows through the family that brings it into their house. This small, austere pleasure of this correspondence is a great richness.

The Thing About an Island

Where there are waves, there is a shore.

They are all different shores.

Some are within you.

You are within some.

Some are bits of drag from the sky moving off the sea and over the island.

Others are the sky taking the island to sea.

These are the shores of life. Gunnar used them as a symbol of Christianity and the hard choices of ethics.

He refused to accept that they were in our control, as strongly as he knew we must cross them.

But that’s why you go to Iceland, right?

To learn your place?

Gunnar Turns Over in His Grave

In March 1940, Gunnar told Nazi Germany about Icelandic architecture that blended with the land. He meant a mixture of German and Icelandic styles, such as his house at Skriðuklaustur, designed by the Hamburg architect Fritz Höger and, well, countrified by its Icelandic workmen, who substituted Icelandic river stones for square cut German ones. Ooops. Nice turf roof, though. Blending in.

He was trying to avoid this:

Albert Speer’s Volkshalle (Hall of the People): architecture that luckily never was.

What the American occupation of the war gave Gunnar’s East Iceland was this:

Dang. The poor man is turning over in his grave.

Got the turf right, though.

Gunnar Weaves the World with the Stony Face of Traditional Icelandic Verse

In the speech he read throughout the Third Reich in the spring of 1940, “Our Land” Gunnar spoke of how Icelandic rock rose in the chain-linked stanzas of traditional Icelandic verse. Here’s the gorge outside his house.

At its foot lies Melárett, the fold that was the largest public building in Iceland in his time, used to gather flocks in winter and separate them out, farm by farm: a place for people to work in unison, come together, and then separate by choice into their own private affairs.

I’m sure the two concepts were intimately linked in series in his mind. Hitler didn’t enjoy the suggestion, by the way.

Splitting the Earth Wide Open

In his novel Sworn Brothers, Gunnar writes engagingly of opening the green skin of the earth, forming it into an arch, and swearing an oath beneath it, before the sod is closed again, taking the oath into deep memory and deep time. So was the voyage that led to the founding of Iceland undertaken, with a few nudges from Oðin, that clever wanderer. One can see signs of this story throughout Iceland today. Have a look. The cairns will guide you to the opening.

Here we are at Geirstaðakirkja. Romantic, huh. Sturdy Viking stuff, machine-planed and the works. Note how the earth is split around the church, in traditional Icelandic turf house style. It’s a thing.

Note as well, that it’s not as romantic as it looks. Whew.

Even a Viking-Christian God needs some water for his sheep and a spare battery for his truck, and where to put that stuff, why, in behind the altar. Naturally. Power is power. But I jest. Look more closely at the surroundings. Here is Gunnar’s split Earth again. This time, a boulder broken by frost, and frost in Iceland is a force from beyond the world and deadly to humans.

Ironically, it also opens the Earth for them, and who steps forth but Lazarus drawn forth by the hand of Christ. You can go into their shared grave in the Earth…

… and you can step out again as a different person, into a different world, one cleansed by the journey…

… and then you can feast.

And then? Why, cross the sea.


With grass breaking across your prow and the wind for a sail.

What You Need Right Now Might Just Be an Icelandic Rock

After a long time between languages, it’s time to go down to the shore.

 

And pick up magic rocks and hold them in. your hand.

And put them down.

And leave them there to talk to the sun in their nonhuman tongues.

And walk back up through the library of the birch forest.

And the lair of dragons.

Give one last glance to the lake.

And go back to the skáldverk in silence.

And begin again.